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Shrup Think: What Makes the Austin Marathon Special

I love to run this time of year in Austin.  Of course – as you might imagine – there are many reasons why, but I really do enjoy running in the cold.  Mostly, though, I love the energy of this season.  It’s marathon season in Austin.  Despite the unAustin weather, everyone bundles up and hits the roads and trails to callus the legs and train the mind for local marathons.  To achieve their goals, they load up the cars and drive to Dallas or College Station, or Houston or Ft. Worth to see if they’ve got it on that one particular day.  But I like the Austin Marathon.  For two main reasons, only one of which is really why it should be your next goal, if it isn’t this year.

The first reason is a personal one.  I like that it is the hometown marathon and I can take my family to watch.  You gotta support the hometown events.  Austin is known for putting on really cool events—mostly music-type stuff—and our sporting events, including the marathon have to be included there.  I like that I can walk one and a half blocks from my house to watch the runners pass.  The crowd at my viewing point in Brentwood (or Crestview or Crestwood or whatever it’s called) is always good because there’s a water stop there and a church choir singing motivational tunes.  We bundle up the boys (in the cooler years) and stroll down to our station in front of the middle school and watch and yell for the all the faces passing by.  There’s really nothing I like more than hanging out with my family, but this has more long-term importance.

I think it is good for my young boys to see people doing physical things, to see them moving, doing athletic things.  They don’t yet understand goal setting and such—they’re too young and then there’s the whole Star Wars thing—but that will come with time.  I’d much rather take my boys to watch a race than to a movie, though they’d probably vote otherwise.  For them to grow up in a physically active community is very important to us.  If they decide one day to take up a running practice—great!  If they don’t—great!  But we want them to know that physical activity is a necessary part of a healthy life.

Mostly, I like that Austin is an honest course.  It really isn’t a fast marathon like, say, Houston or Chicago, but it is a much greater challenge.  For those who are trying to improve on PR’s or hit a BQ, other courses might be more forgiving.  Not that it can’t be done on Austin’s course.  I’ve seen it happen.  But the weather has to be cooperative, you’ll need to be specifically prepared for the ups and downs of the course profile, and you’ve got to have a good day.  You need to be supremely patient for the first 20 and prepared to run really well over the last 10K.  The Austin course is more like a really long cross-country course, which makes it infinitely more rewarding when you have a great day.

Here’s the thing.  I don’t think the marathon is really all that difficult.  It’s just not, in the grand scheme of athletic events.  It’s not Everest.  It’s not swimming the English Channel.  If it were, there wouldn’t be hundreds of thousands of people doing it every year. It might seem a bit harsh to say so, but with relatively very little preparation, most people who want to make the attempt can stumble their way to the finish line.  Oh, it’ll be ugly, and there will be tortuous levels of discomfort, but it can be done.  And that is not to take away the personal reward or importance of the achievement.  It absolutely can be a life changing event.

It’s much harder to fake it on courses like Austin, New York and Boston.  They’re real marathon courses.  They have inherent challenges other than just the distance of the event.  And that’s what makes it such a special event.  You might think that if you can get through the first 20 miles on the Austin course, you can coast your way down Duval to the finish line, but you’d be sorely mistaken.  There’s more than a grain of truth that the marathon is 20 miles of warm-up for the most difficult 10K you’ll ever run, especially on Austin’s loop.

By 20 miles, most people are probably already sputtering on fumes, their glycogen levels are dangerously close to bonk and the structural and mental fatigue attendant to the duration of the event exacerbates any fueling issues you might have.  So the downhill through Hyde Park ain’t no free ride.  Your legs are cooked—turning your legs over any faster serves only to keep you from slowing down more—and your mind is mush—simple math becomes quantum physics in the last few miles of the marathon.  And to add insult to injury, San Jacinto is a slap to the face in the last half mile.  So you can’t fake Austin.  You have to go to much greater lengths to prepare. You have to have an even greater focus in your preparation and then again on race day.

And then the reward, that gauntlet of Austinites, that tunnel of noise on Congress below the Capital, is much sweeter.

Like New York or Boston, if you have a great day in Austin, you’ve had a brilliant day.  If you can run well in Austin, you can probably run well just about anywhere.

See you at mile 20.